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HPE: Software remains the biggest bottleneck in enterprise

ITProPortal sat down with Iain Stephen, VP and GM Servers EMEA for Hewlett Packard Enterprise to gather his thoughts on his industry and where he sees the market moving in the near future. This candid discussion covers everything from ARM to OCP and ODMs and was carried out ahead of the official launch of HP's new persistent memory technology.

We started with a brutally honest evaluation of the enterprise server market starting from the bottom. "We had to do the Cloudline range" Iain declared, "we need to be there, it is a large addressable opportunity and the fastest growing segment". Customers in that market wouldn't pay for extra IP, he added, something against which nothing much can be done.

The partnership with Foxconn allows HP to either choose SKUs directly from Foxconn's own portfolio or inject some of its own R&D if it sees value in it. Ultimately, supplying what the client wants even if it is on razor-thin margins allows HP to fend off competition and protect marketshare.

But there's more to it than just cost: A lot of the added value of the Cloudline range depends a lot on the software stack and the post sales services. That infrastructure model is challenging for everyone in the market outside the big players especially as the lifecycle model is far shorter.

ODM (Original Design manufacturers) are here to stay, Iain remarked. Their share of the market will continue to grow although, he suspects, at a far lower pace than in the past couple of years. The market is becoming more and more competitive, forcing many to adopt much wider portfolio with specialised offerings driven by what the customers want.

Yet for all the talks about hardware and improvements in the server ecosystem, Iain says that software is the biggest bottleneck. "Software is going to be the challenge". He estimates that around 60 per cent of the addressable market runs with 90 per cent legacy software which would require extensive recoding and redeveloping in order to see significant performance jumps, especially as new technologies are introduced.

Which was the case a few days ago for HP's persistent memory which combines non-volatile storage (NAND chips) and a volatile one (RAM) on one single DIMM backed. HP has worked with most major operating system vendors but Iain argues that this is only the start. "By the end of the decade", he says, "the biggest single issue for our customers will be how to deal with legacy applications".

Forward thinking IT departments, those who truly understand the benefits of moving to new hardware and can migrate core business applications and processes seamlessly, will be pivotal for any meaningful transformation beyond adding just more processor power and memory.

This is where perhaps, IT consultancy powerhouses like Accenture, Wipro and Tata, come into play. And despite having its own internal consultancy team – courtesy of the $14 billion acquisition of Electronic Data Ssystems in 2009 – Iain’s adamant that partnerships are still essential. “We play with as many players as possible”.

The last few minutes of our interview was dedicated to Moonshot, HP’s server venture that uses ARM processors rather than Intel ones. There has been some significant restructuring but Iain believes that there is still a clear market case for them. “They are excellent for VDI/HDI and at-scale compute” quipped HP’s EMEA Server supremo.

And when asked whether the persistent memory would be ported to ARM, he answered that nothing ties the technology to any specific processor architecture (although at that point, it is only compatible with Intel’s latest Broadwell-e Xeon E5 CPUs).

As for licensing the technology to other companies, HP says that it is opened to such opportunities as and when they arise.

Desire worked at ITProPortal right at the beginning and was instrumental in turning it into the leading publication we all know and love today. He then moved on to be the Editor of TechRadarPro - a position he still holds - and has recently been reunited with ITProPortal since Future Publishing's acquisition of Net Communities.